September 2nd, 2010


In memory: John Seeger 1914 - 2010

John Seeger was my Geography teacher at Dalton, the Director with his wife Ellie of Camp Killooleet in Hancock, VT, and later was Principal of Fieldston Lower School (not when I was there). On Saturday afternoon at his camp there was a wonderful memorial service attended by many people who were at camp as a camper and/or staff during his long tenure at camp as well as some local people from the community in which he was involved. He was a fantastic teacher and leader and had a tremendous influence on many people.

John and Ellie many years ago; John and Kate (his daughter and current Director) recently

The memorial had lots of singing and a bunch of people got up to talk about John - I was one. Folk music was a big part of this camp; it is where I was inspired to get and learn how to play a banjo (sadly long forgotten); a number of people launched musical careers from their experiences at this camp.

Tony Seeger, Dean Spencer, Pete Seeger, and Kate Seeger singing at the memorial

This is more or less what I said:

My first year as a camper at the end of 4th grade was the last year before the Seegers took over. I remember back in fifth grade hearing that they were taking over and being really excited because I already knew John who among other things was known for telling great stories - Seegie's stories we called them. John was a great Geography teacher. (I still have my Goode's School Atlas from 5th grade). It was from him that I learned about what it meant to do research and how to report on what one had found out in a useful way. He was a great advisor. I remember once when I talked to him about choosing my career (at the time I was a Physics grad student at Columbia and had just had a part-time job teaching 7th and 8th grade science at Dalton but was concluding that neither of these were the correct path. His advice was basically figure out what you like to do and then see how to make a career out of it. (This is what worked for me because the next term I took my first computer programming course, fell in love with it and that is was the basis for my career as a software designer, manager, researcher, and staff consultant.) And what a story teller he was. I remember his telling the story of Jimmy Angel who discovered Angel Falls in Venezuela many times. When I went to the reunion in 2008 while sitting around the campfire he told the story again and it was exactly as I remembered it.

If you made a mistake he had a way of expressing himself that was constructive and not the least bit humiliating; you sometimes had to interpret subtleties in language and tone of voice. He usually choose counselors by their character, not what they knew.

In the spring of 1959 I discovered the camp where I had a counselor job wasn't going to open and I called John. He said of course we want you here (I'd remained in touch with him); we'll figure out what you'll do soon. A couple of weeks later he said OK you'll be the oldest boys counselor and you'll do riflery. When I got to camp there were other riflery people so I worked with another counsellor on the lake for canoeing and boating and then became the principal person for the following two years. Various people told about their interviews where they'd say something like - Archery? - I don't know anything about it and it he'd say don't worry - you'll learn and he'd point you in the right direction and get you help from others when you arrived.

What a great person he was and how much influence he had on thousands of people who were campers or students.

Music at Killooleet

Folk music and its evolution has thrived at Killooleet. The many members of the Seeger family with direct and indirect connections had an influence. At this reunion, singing by individuals, small groups, and everyone were part of the memorial and a key part of the campfire (which I hear went on until 3:30 am - I left at about 12:30). Also on Friday night in the Main House where people hung around.

And all day there were little scenes of people jamming.

When I was a counsellor I got into guitar and banjo playing. I still have the banjo I bought on the way home from camp - it's not in very good shape and hard to keep in tune and I haven't touched it in a while. In later years my music got into recorders, harp, and choral singing, but that is another story. Now it is mostly just singing Take Me Out to the Ball Game and Sweet Caroline.

Andy Stein (Prairie Home Companion musician) was a camper in my cabin one year. When we talked on Saturday he told me I was a big influence on him. Among other things I had brought a record player and some records with me to have in the cabin. He cited Mountain Music Bluegrass Style as a trigger for him. When I went into that cabin (I'd been one of the 2 counselors in that cabin for 2 of my 3 years) I noticed that the counselor's room was a bit smaller due to bathroom creation/expansion - I think I had the record player in the room and it might not fit now - but on the other hand an iPod is a lot smaller.

My co-counselor was Ed Badeax, another folk musician and among other things the author of the Folkways records Songs of Camp and Sounds of Camp that were recorded at Killooleet. (Ed wasn't there this weekend.)

At the campfire we had a special treat of Pete leading us in several songs in his inimitable way. And he told/sung AbiYoyo which has always been one of my favorites.


Some activities at Camp Killooleet

On Saturday morning we gathered in front of the main house for a Choice period - actually it was really Drifting. I decided to go to Archery and Riflery. Some people went to look at the horses - they now live across the brook and the road instead of on the main campus where the horses wee really ponies. Of course we couldn't choose shop or other things like that since all the equipment was put away. For lunch we hike-day food: hardtack, peanut butter, jelly, american cheese, oranges and other fruit, and chocolate bars.

Here's the first shooter getting some instruction. It was a bit tricky since he was left-handed and it was a right-handed rifle. The owner mentioned that he was trying to donate it to camp but because he bought it many years ago in a different state, ATF made it quite difficult to do the transfer.

When it was my turn I was to get two sets of 5 rounds to shoot the first set at the left bullseye and the second set at the right one. Of course I forgot and the first two of the second set were shot at the left bullseye,. I did pretty well after 50 years.
Here's my target. It was a 50 yard target instead of 50 foot one so the bullseye was larger than it should have been. For those of us who hadn't done this in a long time it was probably a good idea. (The icon on this post was me in my ROTC uniform at MIT where we did some work with M1s.)

After this I went to archery where I got some good pointers on form but still missed the target some of the time. I did better at LCFD dance camp at the Woodstock YMCA camp in the spring but the target was closer.

Later I was going to go canoeing but the canoes and kayaks were being used to help plant some trees out on the mini-islands in the lake. In the afternoon I did take a small dip in the lake. It was warmer than Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester this week and I didn't have to worry about the rip current.